Sunday, April 12, 2009

Technology: 10, Me: 0

I am losing the battle against technology. I bought an Acer Aspire L100 mini-PC about two years ago. It had pretty decent specs for the time: 1GB RAM, 250GB HDD, dual-core AMD Athlon 64-bit processor, and it is TINY, so it barely takes up any space. The first thing I did when I bought it was blast Vista out of there, and install Ubuntu 7.04. I had a great little setup going for doing PHP dev. It all worked great. And then I decided that I wanted to blast the machine, install OpenSuSE 11.1, and run a Windows XP VM off of Sun VirtualBox (with Linux as the base O/S). That's when it all went to hell.

I hadn't used the Acer box for a good year, and didn't even bother doing a backup of my files as I didn't really need them. I just went ahead and installed SuSE. The install went fine, and I started configuring my new box. After some config changes, I rebooted, and then, POOF. It decided to shut down in the middle of re-booting. This happened every time. This meant that I had to re-install the O/S. It turns out that I hadn't formatted the HDD properly when I installed SuSE and it actually had some remants of Ubuntu 7.04, which screwed up the install. Bleh.

My 2nd installation of SuSE went much better. This time, the machine actually booted up properly. After a few tweaks here and there, I was ready to install VirtualBox. The installation appeared to have gone well, but something crapped up when I tried to actually set up a virtual machine. Oh, and another problem: the computer appeared to shut itself off spontaneously after some time. Upon inspection of the system log files, I found out that the machine was over-heating, which caused a forced shut-down. Strange, given that it wasn't in a particularly warm spot in my den. I moved it to a cooler spot, and I had the same problem.

I then tried to install Ubuntu 8.10 - tried and true on my lovely little EeePC. The install appeared to go well, but on first boot-up, the screen came up with an error message indicating that there was no O/S on the machine. So I proceeded to re-try the install. This time, after sitting there listening to the CD spinning away, the computer decided to spit out the disk after some time. I tried again. Same problem. I tried running the installer from the Live CD. Same problem. I tried re-installing SuSE. That worked. Unfortunately, the comp was still shutting itself off. So back to Ubuntu I went. This time the installer ran. And then when it was almost done, the computer shut itself off. Well, that at least explained the "no O/S" message that I'd seen earlier.

I tried the 32-bit version of Ubuntu 8.10. I tried Ubuntu 7.04 again. Nothing worked. The only thing that I was able to install was SuSE, and that was barely working, since after 30 minutes or so, the computer would always shut itself off.

Needless to say, I've wasted several hours and probably got a few gray hairs over this. I finally caved and decided to get myself a new PC. I decided to go with Dell, since they sell PCs with Ubuntu pre-loaded. Unfortunately, at this moment, they only sell one PC with Ubuntu on it, and it was too big, a bit too pricey for my budget, and it came with a 19" LCD monitor (I already have a 24" monitor and don't need another one). So I settled for an Inspiron 530s with the most basic version of Vista on it. I'll blast the damned thing when I get it. It comes with 3GB RAM, 320GB SSATA HDD, with a Core 2 Duo processor (I forked out the extra $50 for Core 2 Duo over the default Pentium Dual-Core). So it's about what I had with the Acer, but with a bit more RAM, more HDD, and an Intel 32-bit processor instead of an AMD 64-bit processor. From what I hear, the AMD 64-bit processors tend to over-heat. Plus, since the Acer is so compact (it uses laptop parts and all of its parts are squished in), that probably contributed to the over-heating. The thing has 2 fans and they're obviously not enough. When I bought my Dell, I could've gone for an even more compact model than what I ended up with, but in all honesty, I'm a bit weary of buying a super-compact desktop after my experience with the Acer. I think I trust compact laptops more than compact desktops at the moment. I'm probably being irrational here, but I don't want to be shopping for a new desktop in two years' time.

Yes, I probably could've forked out the dough for a quad-core beast, but I don't need that much processing power. I'm not a gamer. I just want a sandbox dev environment where I can tinker. I'm happy with 2 cores. That and I just bought myself a 1.5TB external HDD for $200 yesterday, so I didn't want to spend that much money on a new desktop that would be for occasional use.

As for the Acer, I may strip its parts and re-purpose them. I'll probably grab the HDD and buy an enclosure for it. Hopefully I can do something with the DVD writer as well. I don't know about the RAM, however. The Acer uses laptop RAM - 2 slots with 512MB in them right now. My other laptops have 1GB RAM each, but have the same configuration, so I probably won't be able to do anything with the RAM except maybe sell it on eBay or Craigslist.

My new computer will be shipping in about 2 weeks. Until then, hopefully that means that I won't be staying up late at night cursing at an over-heating desktop. 

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